Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway Review for PS3 and XBOX 360
By Bernard Wong
One of the most revisited periods in history, and rightly so, in movies and in video games is World War II. With the start of the whole WWII trend done by the Medal of Honour franchise, quickly a lot of games followed. Including Call of Duty and the PS2 hits of Brothers In Arms franchise. Now entering into the 3rd generation of consoles, Gearbox Software, the company responsible for publishing this series of games, enters their 1st title for the PS3 and XBOX 360. The game has had its successes, and ultimately has had its failures. Criticized for its squad A.I and sometimes enemy A.I in the past games on the PS2 of Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood and Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, Gearbox Software has claimed they are putting this latest installment with improvements.
So the questions are, could Gearbox be saying the truth? Is this just another WWII shooter to be ignored and moved on? Or is this the continuance of a series that has put so much effort into their collaboration and authenticity that 3rd times the chime?
Tell you what though, I reckon I do…
Previously…on Brothers in Arms…
Following the previous game and events, one of the squads from the infamous 101st Airborne Division led by Staff Sergeant Matthew Baker and newly promoted Staff Sergeant Joe “Red” Hartsock, having survived their D-Day invasion insertion into France, have set onto a new objective. The infamous “Operation Market Garden” where regiments of the 101st Airborne as well as the 502nd arrive by glider deep into Holland to push and repel any German counter-attacks that they may face. Baker and Hartsock are reassigned into Fox Company’s special recon unit. Their specific job is to reconnaissance the unknown territory of a place called Eindhoven and take the area whilst waiting for reinforcements.
But at the same time, during past events, Baker will have to start facing the demons that start to plague his mind.
Leading him further into a world, where no soldier of his caliber wants to go to…
Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway is a mix between a 1st person shooter and a 3rd person tactical shooter. If we had to compare, it would be something stemming from Tom Clancy: Rainbow 6: Vegas duo of games. The first person shooter. but as you go to cover and peek out to fire at your enemies, the screen reverts to 3rd person over the shoulder camera view. This kind of gaming isn’t done a lot. But from the modern standpoint, this is a refreshing look into a different gameplay, but set in an all too familiar setting, that is the Allies invasion in WWII. The gameplay aspects with the camera and the firing, is splendidly accurate. When I mean accurate, the game feels like it is real, like it was the tactics that the Allied forces had to employ when they were fighting urban warfare. The end result? It is all based on real events, on a real story and based on real persons during the war. How gearbox interactive managed to get all the information is beyond me, they are resourceful, but more on that in the presentation section.
With gameplay, standard features do apply. There is your HUD (Heads up display) for weapon choice, ammo count, grenade count, a compass that guides you to your next objective, squad mates and a few other things. Brothers In Arms is contextually a squad based game. You are the squad leader and you have soldiers of lower rank to command. BIA has always been a squad based game, with their previous titles before this one; there have been issues with the feature. But with Hell’s Highway, it seems Gearbox has made several improvements and has seemed to fix the problem.
Leading your squad mates is actually quite a hard task to grasp at first, of course with practice and perseverance, it can be seamless to execute. With the commanding of your squad, you can tell them to move to an area, fire on a specific target and destroy cover. Moving to an area is pretty simple and straightforward. Firing on a specific target is an essential part of the game. Simply put, when your team or yourself are firing at an enemy, most of the time it isn’t to get a kill, it’s an act to get your enemy to duck behind cover and ultimately this move is called “suppression”. When your team suppresses an enemy soldier or a group, a marker appears over their position that’ll look like a red circle. Now the red circle will turn into a grey circle bit by bit as you suppress, making the enemy hesitate to shoot back. Once the circle becomes completely grey, the enemy is suppressed and will “blind fire” back at you. Now this is the time for you or other squads to sneak and flank your enemy, surprising and ultimately defeating them. Of course suppression can be reversed and be recovered. So be careful! Destroying cover is a pretty simple order as well. Given the right squad that you have, they can fire on and take apart cover such as sandbags or weak debris that the enemy may be hiding behind with explosives or machine gun fire. Rendering the enemy to fight on the spot or making them retreat.
A feature of the game I tremendously favor and like is the true to life tactics as well as gun handling that is used that affects gameplay. The tactics reflects gritty and basic war strategy that are used to this day for most infantry units and squads in every military and armed forces worldwide. Back in WWII, they first named it the four F’s, Find, Fix, Flank, Finish. To “Find” the enemy, get a “Fix” on their position and engage them essentially pinning and suppressing them in the one spot, “Flank” them from their exposed side as they are distracted by the incoming gunfire then “Finish” them off by eliminating them. It’s a basic and brutal tactic. No remorse and no quarter given. That is war. In terms of the gun handling, each firearm that you will use or even pick up from the enemy, has its own recoil and has its own effects when you pull the trigger. May it be for a single shot, or automatic shooting. What is pleasing is that if you have the dualshock controller (for PS3 Users) or your XBOX 360 controller has vibration capabilities, that the guns have different kicks and vibrations. The more powerful the weapon, the harder the controller vibrates. Like most games of FPS and sometimes 3rd person nature, if you receive damage, the screen will glow and become red, redder and redder before you die. If you stay behind cover and let the redness fade, you can return back to normal fighting strength and continue the fight. So keep in cover! This isn’t a game that rewards you on being the lone ranger and having tactics that are ‘gung ho’. You work as a team and you have to plan and strategize with your team. Essentially, this is what the game is all about. What also is essential is patience. Hells Highway is a game of tactical strategy and being a team with your squad mates.
The game, following its predecessors on the older generation consoles has always had a great soundtrack and voice recording to boot. Because of its predecessors, fans and critics alike have praised and highly commend the sounds that the voice actors give. That they convey the emotion, the realism and the perfect tones of the situations that they bring the characters to life on the screen.
For the gun effects and general effects, Gearbox had taken special consideration to amplify and bring the realism to the game to the next level. All gun sounds, reloading and footsteps are all crisp and clear, and have been recorded live to provide the maximum authenticity. A nice touch in the recording is, when the player is not engaged in a firefight and moving around, his squad mates will mimic the situation and whisper words of banter or acknowledgement of their movements. Of course when you’re engaged with the enemy, your squad mates will scream and change their tones. As well as your squad mates will bark remarks at you if you are at a stalemate situation. They will literally yell at you to give them orders for to be in a better position or if the firefight isn’t progressing. This is a great addition to push the player to make snap decisions just in case something does happen, or the enemy may flank you or do worse.
Like we just discussed a few seconds ago, the sound is a heavy contributor to the presentation of the game. The gun sounds, the voice recordings and more are integral to this authentic WWII tactical shooter. In terms of graphics and the way the game is presented through the campaign mode, Ubisoft have done a pretty good job. Graphics of each soldier, the detail, the mouth movements, its done at a pretty decent standard. It isn’t groundbreaking, but again the graphics alone doesn’t make a standout. The standout is the camera direction for the scenes that tell the story, through its cinematics. From the very beginning of the game, you will be greeted with the phrase “Previously…on Brothers in Arms…”. That’s right, it’s something out of a TV series. Essentially, it is. For those that haven’t played the predecessors of Brothers In Arms, myself included, BIA: HH carries the stories from game to game. Comparing like the HBO series “Band of Brothers”, the Brothers In Arms franchise seems to be going in the same direction. It isn’t bad in any way, it’s definitely a refreshing take and idea being brought forth into the video game industry. Though like with any series, and I’m sure there are people who may feel the same, continuity may make you want to buy the older games to see how it all ended up to the point of the start of BIA: HH.
The only downside of the presentation is the multiplayer aspect. I didn’t mention any of the gameplay before but in short, it is there to be experienced. But you can tell that Ubisoft and Gearbox had the heart there for the game, but it wasn’t executed the best. The graphics are reduced substantially, and the level of modes and gameplay is quite detailed. Even the HUD is more cluttered in comparison to the campaign mode. You can control squads and be assigned different classes, for both the German side and the American side. But for some reason, the overall feel of it feels rushed and actually kind of feels unnecessary.
Brothers In Arms: Hells Highway is a game that shines in its authenticity. Hands down. The sounds, the story arcs, the presentation, the whole package just screams authentic. The voice acting contributes greatly as does the gameplay. It’s a different take on WWII, a different play style with the latest edition to the BIA franchise. The only let down? Multiplayer.
The worded verdict…
Buy It. Straight out. You’d be doing yourself a favor to just see the kind of production values that have been placed for this game and appreciate where the direction of the game and the franchise is going. It is a great game, with great difficulty and a great score to boot now that I think about it (forgot to mention the music). That’s for the campaign side. But alas again, when we talk about the multiplayer? Well, it’s seen to be believed. It is acceptable to play, but most players may not venture into it. Try it of course, but it will most likely bode with players in a not too user-friendly way.